Can One Sleepless Night Cause Weight Gain?

New research suggests even one night of zero shut-eye can impact metabolism.  

Past research has shown that there is an increased risk of weight gain associated with chronic insomnia. A new study is the first of its kind to examine whether sleep loss can cause molecular changes at the tissue level, which can cause an increased risk of adverse weight gain. To determine this, researchers observed molecular signatures of increased inflammation across tissues in response to sleep loss.

The study consisted of 15 healthy and normal-weight individuals who participated in two in-lab sessions in which activity and meal patterns were highly standardized. The participants were kept awake an entire night in one session, and then slept a normal amount of hours in the other session. Blood samples and small tissue samples were taken from the participants’ subcutaneous fat and skeletal muscle the morning after each evening session. After molecular analysis, the tissue samples revealed that the sleep loss resulted in a tissue-specific change in DNA methylation, which plays a role in regulating gene expression.

The results demonstrate that one night of sleep has a tissue-specific impact on the regulation of gene expression in humans, which may explain how night shifts and chronic sleep loss impairs our metabolism and affects our body composition. Researchers plan to study other forms of sleep or disruption of circadian rhythms that may affect tissue metabolism. Jonathan Cedernaes, a circadian researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, states, “It will be interesting to investigate to what extent one or more night of recovery sleep can normalize the metabolic changes that we observe at the tissue level as a result of sleep loss. Diet and exercise are factors that can also alter DNA methylation, and these factors can thus possibly be used to counteract adverse metabolic effects of sleep loss.” These reports underscore the crucial role that sleep plays in overall wellness. Looking to improve your sleep habits? Aim for 7-8 hours of shut-eye to gain the most health benefits. 

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